Keith Larson

Fingerprints of change: Abisko plants and phenology

Nuoja taken from the Abisko Scientific Research Station. Top: taken on 21 February 1925 by Carl G. Alm; Bottom: taken on 21 February 2017 by Oliver Wright

Nuoja taken from the Abisko Scientific Research Station. Top: taken on 21 February 1925 by Carl G. Alm; Bottom: taken on 21 February 2017 by Oliver Wright

Project Description

A major challenge for our time is to understand and predict effects of climate and environmental change on ecosystems and the services they provide to humanity. A larger and possibly more important challenge is to establish the significance of these processes to motivate citizens to change behaviours and to support policy and decision makers in developing adaptation, mitigation and management solutions. One recognized way to find solutions to this challenge is to engage the public directly in our science through ‘citizen science’.

Citizen science transcends regular communication initiatives. In citizen science, participants are actively engaged in the research process that the scientists communicate. This engagement by citizens in the scientific process leads to a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of climate and environmental change beyond what they would gain via the typical diffusion of scientific knowledge. In this project, we collaborate with the naturum Abisko to engage citizens and visitors of the Swedish mountains to become ‘citizen scientists’.

Our citizen science project focuses on the much beloved signs of seasonal change – the emergence of leaves in the spring, start of flowering, when berries are ripe for picking, and autumn leaf colours. Researchers refer to these seasonal changes as plant phenology or the study of nature’s “calendar”. Thanks to the strong links between plants, weather and climate, phenology represents one of the most common biological indicators of climate change showing trends, with earlier spring flowering and longer growing season. These indicators allow researchers to analyse regional differences in the effects of climate change.

Pedicularis hirsuta

Pedicularis hirsuta

However, collecting phenology data on a sufficient geographic scale and over many years is a fundamental obstacle. Today, historical and volunteer data in the form of citizen science have become crucial sources for scientists in the 21st century, including plant phenology data. We have established such a citizen scientist opportunity for the thousands of annual visitors to the Abisko and the Sweidsh mountains.

The naturum Abisko provides a variety of visitor and education programs, including botanical tours. Here we collaborate with them to integrate phenology monitoring into their botanical tours using the citizen science app iNaturalist and Fjällkalendern. These efforts meets our two objectives, of actively engaging citizens to observe the indicators of climate and environmental change that they might otherwise fail to notice, while gathering phenology data for fundamental research.

Get engaged - Learn about plants in Abisko with our flowering lists.

2019 Plant Species Flowering Lists


Our project is inspired by the works of a few key botanists who helped put Abisko on the map, Thore C. E. Fries, G. E. Du Rietz, and Gustav Sandberg. They were all botanists at the Abisko Scientific Research Station. Beginning in 1917 we have extensive records of both the distribution and phenology of the plants in this region from repeated surveys, inventories and research projects.

The research station was established in Abisko in 1913 and immediately began collecting a globally unique long-term weather (climate) series for the Arctic. In 1913 the mean annual temperature in Abisko was below 0 C, today it is above 0 C. This means that at the beginning of the temperature record Abisko had an "arctic" climate and today it has a "boreal" climate.

Thore C E Fries

Thore C E Fries

Temp anomaly Abisko.jpg

Further, global warming as largely impacted this region during the autumn, winter and spring. Today the growing season is about four weeks longer than when the temperature records began (1913).

Growing Season.jpg

Our project focuses on understanding how plants have responded to this century of change. We have excellent distribution and phenology data for almost 200 species of plants beginning in 1917.

So how do plants respond to a changing climate? We have four predictions:

  1. plants can change their distribution, typically by moving north or higher up in the mountains if it gets warmer and the reverse if it gets cooler.

  2. plants can change the timing or duration of their phenology, that is when leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds, or leaf colour change (autumn), occurs.

  3. they can do both.

  4. they can persist without successfully reproducing or competing with the eventual outcome of local extinction.


Our project relies on a citizen science app created for both Android and iOS smart phones called 'iNaturalist'. We have created a specific project where we have identified 40 species of plants that we expect most amateur botanists familiar with the flora of the Swedish mountains can identify. Further these 40 species are found quite broadly from the north to the south of the Swedish mountains.

For people who do not have the taxonomic skills to identify common plants, but can take pictures with their smart phone they can also participate. All observations must contain one or more photos that allow our network of plant experts accurately identify the species. In addition, project staff annotate the phenological state of each observation, typically leaf development, flowering, fruiting and senescence.

Target Species List

Achillea millefolium
Andromeda polifolia
Antennaria alpina
Arctous alpina
Avenella flexuosa
Bartsia alpina
Betula nana ssp. nana
Betula pubescens ssp. pubescens
Bistorta vivipara
Cassiope tetragona
Chamaenerion angustifolium
Dryas octopetala
Empetrum nigrum ssp. hermaphroditum
Geranium sylvaticum
Geum rivale
Gnaphalium norvegicum
Myosotis decumbens
Phyllodoce caerulea
Pinguicula alpina
Pinguicula vulgaris

Potentilla crantzii
Ranunculus nivalis
Rhododendron lapponicum
Rubus arcticus
Rubus chamaemorus
Salix herbacea
Salix reticulata
Saussurea alpina
Saxifraga oppositifolia
Silene acaulis
Silene dioica
Solidago virgaurea ssp. alpestris
Thalictrum alpinum
Tofieldia pusilla
Trientalis europaea
Trollius europaeus
Vaccinium myrtillus
Vaccinium uliginosum ssp. uliginosum
Vaccinium vitis-ideae
Viola biflora

Phyllodoce caerulea

Phyllodoce caerulea

We have created photographic guides to our 40 target species in English, Swedish, and German.

Learn more about our citizen science Project at


Project Partners

naturum Abisko
STF Abisko Mountain Station
Abisko Scientific Research Station
Naturens kalender (The Swedish National Phenology Network)


Gunnar and Ruth Björkman's fund for botanical research in Norrland

Snow bunting migration and spring stop-over ecology in Abisko

Snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis or snösparv) have a circumpolar distribution, breeding mostly at Arctic latitudes or further south on alpine areas. Each year they migrate to lower latitudes to spend the winter, usually south of the snow line, though in human settlements they may stay further north where food is available. During winter, the Swedish breeding population is supplemented by snow bunting migrating from north Norway, Finland, Russia, Svalbard, and Greenland. The population of snow bunting breeding in Sweden has declined by 10-40% over the last 30 years, but is considered to have stabilised the last several years so is not currently considered threatened (Rödlistade arter i Sverige 2015, ArtDatabanken SLU). As the species breed at polar latitudes and alpine areas, and that they winter relatively far north, they are in areas experiencing some of the most rapid rates of climate change worldwide, with periods of snowcover reducing and timing of snowmelt becoming earlier, while temperature is rising (i..e approximately 1.5° C in the last 30 years in the Arctic). In this project we plan to both combine the collection of field data on migrating birds at a stopover site and breeding birds in northern Sweden (Abisko) with analysis of ring recovery data across Europe.


Tom Evans, CAnMOve, Lund University


Gustaf och Hanna Winblads

All photos of snow buntings taken and copyright of Oliver Wright.

Arenas for building relations for co-operation through citizen science

Arenas for building relations for co-operation through citizen science

The purpose of this project is to develop capacity building for citizen science (CS) and strengthen cooperation in research and education at Swedish universities. The end products will be a resource for citizen science projects communicated on web portal and will continuously enable learning and knowledge exchange between the universities and the general public.

Arctic citizen science: snow and plant phenology in a changing climate

Arctic citizen science: snow and plant phenology in a changing climate

Project Summary

As scientists a major challenge of our time is to understand and predict effects of climate change on ecosystems and the services they provide to humanity. A larger and possibly more important challenge is to increase the awareness of the importance of these processes and to get the vital to support of citizens, policy and decision makers for adaptation, mitigation and management schemes. Arctic regions are of special concern in future climate-warming scenarios, because the air temperature increase is predicted to be amplified towards the north where sensitive ecosystems experiences significant change and exert strong feedback effects on the global climate system.

The aim of the project is to reach out to the visitors of Abisko, involve them in a climate research project and use this interaction to communicate how we do climate research. Specifically, we will develop an existing study site into a citizen science trail, adjacent to the Abisko Scientific Research Station and the naturum Abisko in collaboration with the Swedish National Phenology Network and their nation-wide monitoring tool Naturens kalender. As the trail follows an elevational, and thereby a strong climatic gradient, it will offer a concrete illustration of climate effects on plants, snow and the possible effects climate change.

The existing study site was originally established between 1917 and 1919 by Swedish botanist Thore C. E. Fries as an elevational-transect comparing snowmelt dates with plant phenology. Starting in 2017 Climate Impacts Research Centre scientists will replicate Fries’ study to determine how the observed climate changes in the region have affected both snow cover and plant phenology. The new study will incorporate cutting-edge climate stations and phenology cameras to allow us to analyse our results using modern multivariate approaches.

To increase the impact of the new study we will implement a citizen science phenology project along the same trail. The citizen science phenology project will include a citizen science phenology mobile application developed in collaboration with existing Naturens kalender app as well as PicturePosts and PhenoCam projects to allow citizen scientists to contribute observations and phenology photos and get near-real time feedback through innovative mobile and web interactive applications. In addition to providing this novel way of directly interacting with and contributing to climate change research project in the Arctic as “citizen scientists”, we will communicate specific and general research results in relation to climate change effects in the Arctic. The project will utilize many unique aspects of the Abisko region, a hot spot for both tourism and world class research. The science trail targets both Swedish and international visitors and through the international phenology networks we can guide the visitors to participate in similar kinds of citizen science based phenology monitoring back home. An interdisciplinary working group of international scientists and stakeholders actively engaged in Arctic nature conservation and science will develop the project.


Magnus Augner, Abisko Scientific Research Station, Swedish Polar Research Secretariat
Håkan Grudd, Abisko Scientific Research Station, Swedish Polar Research Secretariat
Kjell Bolmgren, Naturens Kalender, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Lo Fischer, naturum Abisko, County Administrative Board/ Länsstyrelsen Norrbottens län
Jan Karlsson, Umeå University

Funding Organizations

Climate Impacts Research Centre